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Outsiders Choose Hill Professionals

New House Members Pick Capitol Hill Veterans to Be Their Chiefs of Staff

File Photo
"Mr. Outsider" Rep. Billy Long (above) hired Joe Lillis as his chief of staff. Lillis has been legislative director to Rep. Lynn Westmoreland since 2005, and before that, he worked for former Rep. Mac Collins and former Sen. Gordon Smith.

Correction Appended

A flashy Southern auctioneer with as much a penchant for cowboy hats as for telling voters that he’s “fed up,” Rep. Billy Long struck electoral gold with his campaign as a bona fide Capitol Hill outsider.

“I may not look the part,” the Missouri Republican said in a campaign ad, cracking a sly smile. “But if you’re fed up with politicians in Washington and their cronies, I would truly appreciate your vote.”

After the election was sealed, Long’s rhetoric didn’t cease. When he came to the Capitol in November for orientation, he announced in a press release, “Mr. Outsider Meets the Insiders.” 

But Long not only met the insiders, he hired one of them as his chief of staff. Joe Lillis has been legislative director to Rep. Lynn Westmoreland since 2005, and before that, he worked for the Georgia Republican’s predecessor, Rep. Mac Collins (R), and former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).

Long is not alone in hiring an insider. Many new Representatives shared Long’s campaign disdain for the powers that be in Washington, D.C., but nearly 75 percent of all new House Members opted for an experienced Washington hand as their top staffer.

A Roll Call analysis of new Members’ picks for chief of staff found that of the 96 chiefs, at least 60 have previously worked for a Member of Congress or a committee.

Long declined to comment for this report, but Westmoreland recently recounted giving the inexperienced legislator the advice to hire someone who can guide him through Washington. 

“I said, ‘Billy, you’re not a detail person are you?’ He said, ‘Nope,’” Westmoreland told Roll Call. “I said, ‘If you’re not detail-oriented, you better hire somebody who is detail-oriented.’ The ropes are going to be hard enough for a new Member of Congress to learn. If he has eight people or seven people there who are learning the ropes together, that’s going to be a long ride.”

GOP leadership had nudged new Members to hire experienced staffers, even putting together a list of about 75 potential chiefs of staff, including current and former Capitol Hill staffers and lobbyists.

An early warning about hiring outsiders came when Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) tried to hire a conservative talk-show host as his top aide. He backtracked after inflammatory comments that she had made on the air came to light.

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